Expert panel see hope for stem cell use as diabetes cure

A report from a medical panel of academic and community-based endocrinologists and transplant surgeons acknowledged that a recent study supports the use of stem cells as a future cure for type I diabetes.

The panel was responding to recently published research where pancreatic insulin-producing islet cells were discovered in mice. The panelists were unanimous in their enthusiasm that this research, conducted jointly at the Universities of Alberta and Toronto, adds more hope to the goal of getting human stem cells to produce insulin, and thus finding a cure for diabetes.

While most panelists felt that clinical use of pancreatic stem cells as a cure for diabetes was 15-20 years away, they also believed that application of stem cell therapies would likely include spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and dementia. In addition to the current federally imposed restrictions on stem cell research, they also saw cost as a major inhibiting factor, including sterilization, preservation of cells, consistency of product and delivery of cells.

The panelists acknowledged the current ethical concerns surrounding stem cell research, but most felt that the impediments to research put in place by the current administration were unfortunate, and that science preceded ethics on most issues. One panelist said, "I do not have any ethical concerns. Science always moves ahead of the ethical considerations. The main reason for this is that the true potential of stem cells only a handful of people really could foresee (the dreamers). I suspect that stem cells will allow us to learn how to slow aging or to grow body parts. The ethics of who will get the benefits will be controversial." Another echoed, "I think scientific advances and research has to precede (ethics) and should have top priority compared to ethical or political or social issues in treating chronic and disabling diseases. Adult human stem cells should have less controversy compared to embryonic human stem cells in terms of ethical issues." One panelist even added, "If the political hurdle would be removed, I believe there is a lot of pent-up momentum from both scientists and drug companies [for stem cell research]. "Recent research on adult stem cells has found adult stem cells in many more tissues than once thought possible. These findings have led scientists to ask whether adult stem cells could be used for transplants. Adult blood forming stem cells from bone marrow have been used in transplants for 30 years. Certain kinds of adult stem cells seem to have the ability to differentiate into a number of different cell types, given the right conditions. If this differentiation of adult stem cells can be controlled in the laboratory, these cells may become the basis of therapies for many serious common diseases. Since adult stem cells avoid the ethical debate surrounding embryonic stem cells, most scientists on the panel feel more comfortable pursuing this line of research.

The medical panel was comprised of nine physicians from private practice and academic medical centers from across the country. Their specialties are Endocrinology and Transplant Surgery. MedPanel conducts medical and public health studies regularly as a part of its commitment to encouraging high level medical dialogue, increasing awareness and changing behavior related to significant health issues.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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